Travel Agents Go Virtual

INTERNET-TRAVEL SITES, once the bane of travel agents, are bringing travel agents live onto the Web.

The Web travel site has introduced a feature that enables consumers booking cruises on the site to chat online with a real-life travel agent. has added a similar feature, allowing consumers with questions to click on “customer service” and either request an immediate interactive chat with a travel agent or set an appointment to talk with an agent over the phone. Spokesmen for both sites say the idea is to make booking online more attractive and easier for users, who often have questions they can’t answer surfing on their own.

There are still limits to online travel agents’ services: The chat features won’t be available 24 hours a day on either site, and consumers chatting online at will only be allowed to ask travel agents questions about cruises. says it eventually will have travel agents online who specialize in all types of travel, but, “Right now, you can’t just switch gears and say, ‘Oh, and I want to go to Paris. ”